Friday, October 29, 2010

Book Recommendation: Teen Idol

So I have a confession: I only just read my first Meg Cabot book. I'm not sure what excuse I can give for waiting so long except maybe to say that at first glance her books never looked like the sort of books I enjoy. (Yes, I know, I judge books by their covers. Naughty me!) So she wasn't really on my radar until lately, when I kept hearing her name over and over from all different sources.

The first thing that tipped me off to her awesomeness was realizing that her book The Princess Diaries was in fact the inspiration for the movie by the same name and not just a coincidental title. I love the movie, so I figured the book must be even better.

Well, I still can't speak to that directly as The Princess Diaries wasn't the book I picked up at the library last week. But I can say that Teen Idol—the book I did choose—is super cute and fun to read. In fact, I could hardly put it down.

Now usually I don't stay up late to read through feel-good books set in high school, but I made an exception for Teen Idol. I loved the characters, and the situations that Meg Cabot put them in were all very interesting. I really wanted to know what they would do next, and that's a big win for any book.

Teen Idol is about an ordinary girl named Jenny whose world gets turned upside down when a movie star enrolls at her high school and she's entrusted with keeping his identity secret. The story is sweet and romantic and totally satisfying.

I might just have to read it again.

And I certainly plan to pick up more of her books in the future. If the rest are even half as good as Teen Idol I know I will enjoy them. Meg Cabot, I'm an instant fan.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


National Novel Writing Month is coming up!  I wrote the following as a reply to a post on another blog and decided I wanted to share it here as well.

This is my NaNoWriMo story:

In 2004 I was a senior in college.  The major that I had designed for myself (Natural Language Processing) was falling apart, and I wasn't convinced any more that it was what I wanted to do anyway.  I ended up falling back on my math major, but that wasn't really what I wanted to do either.

I'd been writing a little over the years--nothing very serious--but as all of my other plans were coming down around me I realized that the one thing I kept looking forward to was writing.  But I wasn't sure I could *really* be a writer.  I'd never tried before, and besides, I was a science person, right?

That's when I heard about NaNoWriMo.  It sounded like fun, and at that point I was really up for a challenge.  So I participated and by the end of the month I had written 50,000 words.  But more than that, I realized that I had enjoyed writing more than anything else I had done over the previous four years.  Right away I signed up for a creative writing class for my final semester.

I graduated in the spring and got married in the fall.  I wanted to do NaNoWriMo again in 2005, but for whatever reason (lack of focus, being a newlywed with the responsibility of writing out hundreds of thank-you notes, who knows) I didn't write more than a few thousand words.

Fast-forward to November, 2006.  I'd been part of a critique group for a few months (and it was doing wonders for my growth in writing), but I'd also recently gotten a new job and didn't have as much time to write any more.  I was starting to doubt whether I'd really be able to make this writing thing work after all.  When November came around I realized I needed to prove to myself that my writing aspirations were still possible.  So I did NaNo and for the second time I won NaNo.

Since then I've been writing steadily.

In 2007 I thought about trying NaNoWriMo again, and I may even have started working on a novel, but I had other projects that were more long-term and more important.  I didn't need NaNo.

In 2008 and 2009 I visited the NaNo site to participate in the forums--those were always one of my favorite parts of NaNo--but I didn't attempt the 50k word challenge.

And now this year I've finally put away NaNoWriMo for good.  Without it I wouldn't be writing, but it's a crutch that doesn't help me any more.

But because of what NaNoWriMo has done for me I am 100% in favor of it.  For some (like me) it's the first step.  For others it's proof that (to quote Back to the Future) "if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything."  Some people need to discover that.  And for a lot of people NaNoWriMo is a fun way to get in touch with their creative side... and *everybody* needs that sometimes.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Book Recommendation: The Abhorsen Trilogy

I'm taking a slightly different tactic this week in recommending a series instead of a particular book: the Abhorsen trilogy by Garth Nix. Why? Well, for one because the whole trilogy is fantastic, but also for a more practical reason: I read the first two books several months ago, and only the third is really fresh enough in my mind to address.

Book 1: Sabriel is the daughter of the Abhorsen, the man responsible for standing against necromancers and any dead who seek to return to life. But when Sabriel's father goes missing she must assume his responsibilities and face one of the greatest threats to the world of the living in generations.

Book 2: Lirael is a daughter of the Clayr, those who see into the future, and yet her own Sight never comes, even though the gift has never been known to skip over any Clayr girl. Then the Clayr see a vision of her in the thick of the latest trouble facing her world, and Lirael sets off to discover her true purpose and help restore the balance of living and dead.

Book 3: In Abhorsen Lirael continues her journey to stop the Destroyer from consuming her world. Sabriel, Lirael and their friends and family must join together if they are to save all life before it's too late.

There are several things I love about this series. The world that Nix has created is divided into two sections: The Old Kingdom and Ancelstierre—the land of magic and the land of science. Most of Ancelstierre believes there is no such thing as magic, and that the accounts of magic in the Old Kingdom must be the reports of simple-minded folk who don't understand the true scientific explanations. But in the Old Kindom magic is very much alive, and Ancelstierran technology is useless. Nix uses both worlds adeptly, and the setting is the perfect backdrop for this story.

In particular I love the creativity that Nix put into the idea of the Abhorsen. In Nix's world the barrier between life and death is thin and not permanent. Most of those who die are content to traverse through the gates of death to their final rest, but there are some who fight to get back to life. The Abhorsen's job is to prevent them, using seven bells that command any who hear them. The bells each have a particular use, and even a personality, from the smallest bell Ranna, which brings about sleep, to the largest bell Astarael, the sorrowful bell that sends all who hear it deep into death.

The characters are fun too, particular the Disreputable Dog and Mogget, the little white cat, both companions of Lirael and her friend Sam.

If you're looking for a creative fantasy adventure, this is a great series to try.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

You know you're a writer when...

I had a dream last night that I was a star in a major movie.  It was a fun movie, too, though I have no idea now what it was about.  But while all the accolades I was getting were nice, my biggest concern in the dream was whether or not all the new publicity from the movie would give me greater chances of publishing my book.

Yes, even as a superstar, all I wanted was for my writing to succeed.  Go, little book, go!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Editing: Structure

Warning: lots of writing process babble ahead.  Proceed with caution...

Well, I've taken the editing plunge.

The idea of editing is always a little overwhelming at first. I have a vague idea in my mind of all the things that need to be changed, but I start out not entirely sure where to begin. I have several little editor voices in my head all saying things like “This bit over here needs to be cut,” or “These lines don't belong here,” or “That's not the right way to present that plot line,” or “This scene just isn't working—figure out why!” or “Do you seriously think you can get away with that opening hook?”

And of course, being a perfectionist, I want to fix all of these things at once. But that can't be done. So eventually I come to the obvious conclusion that I should start with the structural issues first.

So that's how I spent yesterday. I went through the first section of the book and made a chronological list of all the scenes, chapter by chapter. (The process was complicated by the fact that I had three different versions of chapter 1.) That way I could piece together where all the scenes should be, and after writing out the new order I set to the task of copy and paste.

Scene reordering is a lot more nerve-wracking than it may sound. There's the constant fear that I'll delete something and forget to put it somewhere else and thus lose it entirely. Or that I'll lose my place and get so muddled in where I am that I'll end up creating twice as much work for myself. Maybe it's a control issue—I feel that if I'm not holding both the current order and the correct order in my head at all times I'll get swept away in a river of homeless scenes all looking for their place in the story.

But happily, the copy and paste is mostly done now. (I say mostly because there are a couple small bits that might still need reorganizing.) Now comes the fun part: making the new order of scenes flow together. Well, fun for me, but I like that sort of thing.

And then will come the other big-picture edits: fixing flawed scenes, making sure characters are behaving appropriately, cleaning up major dialog errors that take the story off track... things like that.

And then mid-sized edits: descriptions and character reactions... the typical weak points of my first draft.

And finally the nitpicks and the “how many unnecessary words can I find and cut” game.

Two bright sides to the structural work I've just done:

1) There are three distinct sections of this story, so the structural complexity isn't nearly as insane as it could be.

2) I only have one POV character. So much easier to figure out the order of things when I'm juggling just one time-line instead of two.

Now back to work for me!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Guest Post

I've got a guest post up today at Down with the Author!  DwtA! is a new blog for characters.  My character Annie has been invited to make a few appearances there.  Today she's talking about Happy Endings.  Go check out the blog, and get in touch with the admins if you're interested in contributing.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Book Recommendation: The Dead and the Gone

The Dead and the Gone, by Susan Beth Pfeffer is the companion novel to Life As We Knew It, which I have also read and loved. I recommend both: they are each strong stories.

What would happen if an asteroid knocked the moon closer to earth?

The answer is even more nightmarish than you might think. Survival is against the odds, and those who do survive must overcome nearly insurmountable challenges: flood, famine and worse. How long would you last in those conditions?

The Dead and the Gone follows a New York City boy named Alex during the aftermath of the asteroid, as he struggles to care for his two younger sisters. Time and again he must face situations that require the utmost resourcefulness.

The book is very hard to put down. Pfeffer leads her readers through heartache and triumph with expert skill. Every moment feels all too real. More than that I'm reluctant to say; I don't want to spoil one single moment of the suspense and surprise.

But I will say this: the story has everything—smooth writing, sympathetic and believable characters, and an engrossing plot. Every page is a blood-pounding thrill.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Writing News and Vacation

Well, it's been a month since I last posted, and I have news! The primary reason for my absence lately was a new-found focus on finishing up my first draft of Olympus Gate, and I am pleased to report that I have now graduated from first draft into editing mode. I'm really excited about this novel, and I'm even looking forward to the editing process. I think Olympus Gate is already the best work I've ever done, and once it's cleaned up maybe it'll actually be something I'm willing to start submitting. In the meantime I'm enjoying my character and her world and getting psyched about how much better the story will be once I make the necessary changes.

The other reason for my absence was a vacation to Florida over the past couple weeks. My husband and I went down to Orlando to spend some time at Universal Studios for our anniversary and then visit with his grandfather, who lives in the area. We had a fantastic trip. I really enjoyed a lot of the rides and attractions at Universal, and I particularly loved the new Harry Potter world. Aside from the overpriced merchandise it was everything I had hoped for.

And that is all there is to tell at the moment. I hope the past month has treated you well!